Roy doesn’t like baking and doesn’t usually like to cook things that take too much effort. Simple meals are his favorite to prepare at home. But last week, when I was recipe testing for a meatless Manapua/Char Siu Bao (yes, posting this soon!) our friend Peter came over. I was in the middle of cooking, the dough balls portioned, the filling prepped, and the steamer basket set up over a pot of boiling water, when Peter noticed and asked if he could make a few manapua himself. It turned into him and Roy making most of them and trying to see how much filling they could fit into each ball of dough. At some point, Peter said, “I hate prepping all the food but the fun part is putting it together.” It made me realize this is probably why people love(d) those pick-it-and-paint pottery places. Is that still a thing? The plate or the picture frame has already been made and now all they have to do is the fun part – the painting! I figured, if I could make the cake batter and the frosting, and give Roy all the tools he’d need for a cake, then maybe Roy wouldn’t mind putting a whole cake together for the first time.
For some reason, people don’t usually think to make a cake for someone who makes cakes a lot themselves. And as someone who’s made a cake or two for birthdays or special occasions, I had the best time watching Roy put some time and effort into making me a birthday cake this year.
He showed me photos he had found on the internet of what he wanted to make, requesting a vanilla cake and demanded that it have lots of strawberries and a little Korilakkuma eating a strawberry on top. I loved watching how careful and precise he was trying to be and laughed endearingly as he struggled with placing mandolin-thin slices of strawberries with his bear paw hands. There were times I noticed he took great care with putting the cake together that I would have rushed through *cough* slicing the cake layers *cough*.
The experience was also a lesson in patience. I had to remind myself to step back and let Roy do things exactly how he wanted – which was very hard because I am a bit of a control freak and especially when it comes to making something like a layer cake. Originally, I had planned on relinquishing all cake making to just Roy but he wanted to work with a smaller cake and I had made enough batter for a 3-layered 8 inch cake. We decided that I’d make a cake along with Roy as he made his. The funny thing was that when choosing between the two cakes we made, Roy’s was much tastier. The layers were thinner so didn’t take as long to bake and were therefore moister. With mine, it was a bit off-putting to eat a forkful of cake followed by a big glob of frosting with every bite. The cake recipe itself is on the richer side, a bit closer to being dense like a pound cake, and going lighter on the frosting was a good idea.
A little went a long way here. This was one of the sweetest gifts and I’m hoping that this can become a thing that we do together every year for my birthday! Who knows. Maybe Roy’ll be a pro cake decorator in a few years 🙂
Strawberry and Vanilla Birthday Cake
Recipe from BraveTart.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour up to 4 lbs of white granulated sugar in a 9×13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast for about 1 hour until the sugar turns ivory. Stir and continue to roast for another 2-4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. The sugar will darken in color and deepen in flavor. Keeping it in the oven any longer will cause the sugar to liquify.
The sugar will be very hot out of the oven so make sure to let it cool for at least 2 hours. Transfer any excess sugar to an airtight container.
for the vanilla butter cake:
2 1/4 cups or 455g toasted or plain sugar
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
16 tbsp or 255g softened unsalted butter
3 large eggs, brought to about 65°F
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups or 455g whole milk
3 1/2 cups or 455g all purpose flour, spooned
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line three 8-inch pans. Alternatively, we made two 2-layered 5 inch and 6 inch cakes by splitting the batter four ways.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Start the mixer on a low speed until the ingredients are roughly incorporated, then increase the speed to medium. Beat till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Halfway through, make sure to stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula.
3. With the mixer running, add each egg one at a time making sure to beat well between each addition. Add the vanilla and beat for a few more seconds. Turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and add 1/3 of the flour and 1/3 of the milk, continue to beat till combined. Repeat in thirds with the rest of the flour and milk.
4. Scrape the bottom of the bowl again to make sure everything is incorporated. The batter should be thick and creamy. Stella recommends the batter be between 65 and 68°F for the best baking texture.
5. Transfer the cake batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake for 32 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cakes cool completely before removing from their pans.
for the swiss meringue buttercream:
3 large egg whites (about 85g)
155g lightly toasted or plain sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
scraped seeds from 1 split vanilla bean (optional)
2 1/2 sticks, 282g softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract (optional)
6. In a pot smaller than the bowl of the stand mixer, bring about an inch of water to a simmer. Add the egg whites, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar to the metal stand mixer bowl. Make sure the bowl is not touching the water. Whisk the egg white mixture until it has warmed to around 185°F and the sugar has been completely dissolved. This should take about 10-12 minutes. Immediately after, transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until the meringue forms stiff and glossy peaks and has cooled to around 90°F. This should take about 10 minutes.
7. With the mixer running, add the butter about 1 tablespoon at a time. The mixture may become soupy but will thicken as the temperature of the butter cools the rest of the meringue. The buttercream should be thick, creamy, and soft but not runny. It should sit at about 72°F. Add in the vanilla and almond extract. If not using the buttercream immediately, transfer to an airtight container. It can be stored in the fridge for 2 weeks and in the freezer for a few months. To use, it must be warmed again to 72°F and re-whiped.
We made our cakes with strawberries, blueberries, chamomile flowers, and a little Korilakkuma bear made out of fondant.